Q&A: Fhaiy Preechaya and Renzo Cano Robles on marketing an app that makes commutes easier and more rewarding in the Majority World
Rumbo — WhereIsMyTransport’s public transport app — is helping commuters in Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok have smoother journeys. We spoke with Fhaiy Preechaya, Global Marketing Lead, and Renzo Cano Robles, Marketing Manager, about the value of real-time information and the life-changing potential that comes from helping people in emerging markets understand how public transport really works.
What do you do at WhereIsMyTransport, and what’s your background?
Fhaiy: I’m our Global Marketing Lead and I have 10 years of creative marketing experience in e-commerce companies in Thailand, where I did planning, overseeing, and developing all advertising and creative content, as well as leading brand campaigns. At WhereIsMyTransport, I manage our local marketing teams, creating a culture of experimentation and collaboration and leading our global marketing roadmap to drive growth in awareness and acquisition. I work closely with our experts in Lima, Mexico City, and Bangkok, learning how we can apply local strategies globally.
Renzo: I’m Marketing Manager for Lima. I’ve worked at advertising agencies all of my career, with small and large brands, local and international. One of my favourite brands to work with was KFC, and I also really enjoyed working with Gloria. Now I’m at WhereIsMyTransport, I use things like social media and always-on campaigns to focus on user acquisition and hit our growth goals, and have some fun on the way. I’m applying my knowledge and creative background and creating new stuff!
What is it like to commute by public transport where you are from?
Fhaiy: I’m based in France but I was born and raised in Bangkok. The public transport system in Bangkok can be chaotic and confusing, not only to foreigners but for locals too. I lived in Thailand for 25 years and public transport was part of my daily life — I spent three hours commuting every day. I lived quite far from the university, and to get to school I needed an hour and a half on a typical day. After I left my house, I’d call a motorcycle taxi in my village. I’d just wave and then they’d pick me up. I’d take that for about three kilometres to the van hub. Then I’d take a van to the Victory Monument, which was my closest BTS station — that’s a form of mass transit. By now, I’d only be about 20 kilometres from my place, but with the traffic in Bangkok it would take up to an hour. Then I’d take the BTS to Asoke for about 15 minutes. It’s not done yet though! I’d then need to take another motorcycle taxi trip from the final BTS station to the university.
Renzo: In Lima, we have a different experience to our other Rumbo markets. In Mexico City, for example, people often feel sentimental about the disorder — they enjoy the culture of the commute. Here in Lima, we don’t really enjoy each ride. Some of the vehicles are old, and congestion means that journeys that used to take one hour are now taking two. We don’t have many formal public transport lines here. We have a train, but it only has one line, and it took us 30 years to build it! It’s the same for the Metropolitano, which is a Bus Rapid Transit system. It is actually quite new — only ten years old — but even with formal routes available, we still spend two hours commuting. And the investments we have seen aren’t spread across the whole city, only in specific places. It’s really hard to move here. Most people feel like they’re losing time every time they commute, wasting hours every day. We try to find the best way to enjoy it, but it’s difficult.
Rumbo is a hyperlocal app, but we also have a global strategy. What does that mean for your work?
Fhaiy: It’s challenging to find the optimal balance between local strategy and global strategy in a multicultural business. If we centralise too much, we risk losing touch with our markets. So what I did when I started in this position was to identify what needed to be done locally, and what could be done globally. Once I understood the boundary between them, I established realistic goals that aligned with company objectives.
Renzo: In Lima, when we launched Rumbo, we tried to have the same flavour as we had in Mexico City, but not the same message. Our launch colleagues in Mexico established some useful guidelines for how the brand could work and what our voice would be. We tried something similar in Lima, but we had to evolve it to move in ways that worked for Peruvians. Evidence has shown us that brands that do not take the trouble to understand the cultural diversity that exists in smaller countries are doomed to have users and not fans. So we found our own formula and we implemented that. That localisation has been key for achieving the results we’ve seen in Lima.
Fhaiy: We’re guided by a goal setting framework called NCTs — Narratives, Commitments, and Tasks. This helps us set better and more complete goals. We do this as a whole company, with cross-functional alignment. Narratives are what entire divisions need to achieve. Once that is clear, we establish achievable, measurable commitments in support of it. Then we take advantage of our local knowledge, with our local marketing experts deciding in each market what Tasks need to be done to complete the Commitments and achieve the Narratives. The key in making it scalable is coordinating our efforts, turning our most successful local initiatives into global ones, without sacrificing the hyperlocal flare that people love.
Renzo: One of the most important hyperlocal characteristics is how people speak. You can’t duplicate that. People often think that Latin America is one place, one market. But we have so many different ways of communicating. You can’t have one regional strategy for a whole continent, but it’s very common for global businesses to do that.
Creating a unique personality for Rumbo in Lima was not a desire, it was a strategic necessity. Having a regional strategy does not work for the diversity of Latin America — and it can be counterproductive at times. To properly connect with our audience we had to be like them, like the Peruvian on the street, know their humour, their joys, their frustrations, and sadness. These insights meant we could infuse our brand with unique local characteristics, helping us connect authentically with our audience.
There’s a new feature in Rumbo that I know Limeños are going to enjoy — voice note reports. Our users want to express how they feel about public transport, and this allows people to report disruption information from their journeys in a creative way. People will find a way to make this fun! It’s a great opportunity for us in marketing to go viral around a new feature.
How do you ensure people understand what Rumbo has to offer?
Fhaiy: There are several types of audiences, including the people who already use the app, and the fan who follows us but hasn’t downloaded Rumbo yet. Before the business even developed a product, we did a lot of research into what the typical Rumbo user’s pain points are, and what they needed to address them. Our Product team used that to develop something that solves the problem. That’s when it turns to marketing to get across what we’re solving and how we’re making people’s lives easier.
Renzo: People who use Rumbo understand journey planners and they understand search, but Rumbo is different. No-one else is doing what Rumbo is doing in Lima, so that means our users don’t always know exactly what they have in their hands when they download it. Ideally, we want people to rapidly feel like they understand the app and all the ways they can benefit from it. My main goal is to be really educational and specific about Rumbo’s features. We use a lot of memes on social media to get our features across, and people get it. They’re entertained and they’re learning — all because of a meme. Education is our best way to help people understand something.
Fhaiy: There’s features in Rumbo that are really strong. We focus on those, letting our audience know that we are here to help. We’re looking to inspire people to try Rumbo. We’ve recently shifted our focus onto real-time information — it’s what we do best — to help people understand the value in what we’re offering.
What projects from the first two years of Rumbo stand out to you?
Fhaiy: This is hard for me as I work across our three markets! But we did a recent project related to the monetisation of Rumbo that I am very proud of — paid user surveys. This is a tactic where we invite people to participate in a survey in Rumbo in exchange for a reward. We collaborated cross-functionally and launched a trial programme in all three of our Rumbo markets at once, which took a lot of manual effort from all our teams — building landing pages, terms and conditions, working with our partner on content and so much more.
We found such a strong appetite in all three markets! We’d planned to test this over two weeks, but the project was so successful—overly successful!—that we had to stop after three days because we’d reached our maximum reward budget. This proved our hypothesis that people using Rumbo are interested in valuable and rewarding activities to complete on their public transport journeys. It was great to be part of this project, collaborating with our teams and seeing the results pay off.
Renzo: With marketing, we’ve focused on what we know everyone loves. We dedicated ourselves to making the best merchandise for our Rumbis — the people using our app — creating something that they actually want. We started by working on comic illustrations with local artists, each of whom imbued their style into the comics. Then, we found the best illustrators for merchandise, exploring current trends to give a better finish to our products. The finish is important — the best materials, the best supplier, and the best illustrator for the job. You can really tell when a brand doesn’t pay attention to what it gives you. We also ensured our merchandise would be desirable and powerful — something our audience would love and want to live with.
So what worked best? For me, it was our stickers for the metro and subway cards. Every time someone uses their card to pay for a journey, we make an impact with these users. We also did a promotional campaign at a university in Lima that was really successful. University is an ideal location for the people we target with Rumbo — students who use public transport! We visited to promote Rumbo, playing branded games and giving away swag. We worked with illustrators on lanyards, books, stickers, and things that students use every day. People loved it. That’s the emotion we’re trying to build every time people see our brand. We got hundreds of downloads and the Cost Per Acquisition was low. And we had a good time!
Fhaiy: I’m proud of all of our marketing campaigns, and the latest updates we made to Rumbo. Yes, we rolled out our paid surveys pilot, but there’s a lot more going on too. We also made it easier for people to share data from their own journeys with Rumbo to enrich the data for everyone. I really like that vibe of a community of public transport users helping each other. With our marketing efforts, we’re reaching more people than ever, helping them all have easier commutes and better experiences as they use public transport. I’m really happy and excited for our Rumbis.